4 Best Grass Types for Lawns in Chicago

The Best Grass Types for Chicago, IL

Chicago is known for diversity in its food, people, neighborhoods, attractions, and even its grasses. There are numerous cool-season types of grass throughout the city that grow better the in cooler climates of the northern U.S. Here are the four best grass types for lawns in Chicago.

The Best Grass Types for Chicagoland Residents

1. Kentucky Bluegrass

Kentucky bluegrass
Kentucky Bluegrass
Photo Credit: Ethan2039 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

One of the most popular grasses for northern Illinois is Kentucky bluegrass (KBG). It has an appealing look and hardiness that homeowners love. Also, it has the ability to fill in damaged parts without needing overseeding. However, it does require a higher level of maintenance. You can’t forget to fertilize, water, and mow your grass!

Kentucky bluegrass does best in full sun but has a low to moderate shade tolerance. If you have some shade in your yard, buy a KBG/fine fescue mix. This grass is more winter-hardy than other types, which is another reason why it is one of the most popular choices in Chicago. It will take time to establish the grass by seed, typically one to three months.

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Rhizomes
  • Shade Tolerance:  Low to moderate
  • Drought Tolerance: Moderate
  • Foot Traffic Tolerance: Low to moderate (rhizomes help it recover well)
  • Maintenance Needs:  High
  • Mowing Height: 2 ½  to 3 inches
  • Potential for Disease: Moderate; susceptible to a number of different diseases, including necrotic ring spot and summer patch
  • Color/Texture: Blue-green, fine texture

Grass Seed Options:

Jonathan Green (11970) Blue Panther Kentucky Bluegrass Grass Seed (3 lbs.)
SeedRanch Midnight Kentucky Bluegrass Seed (5 lbs.)

2. Tall Fescue

Tall Fescue
Photo Credit: Matt Lavin / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Tall fescue is an ideal low-maintenance grass choice in Chicago, especially if planted in late summer to early fall. It can handle soil that is low in nutrients and handles problems with pests and diseases well. Tall fescue germinates quickly but not as fast as perennial ryegrass. You will find that tall fescue tolerates foot traffic well. Also, the deep root system means it is drought-resistant as well.

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Bunch-type grass
  • Shade Tolerance:  Moderate
  • Drought Tolerance: High
  • Foot Traffic Tolerance: High (but doesn’t recover well and will require overseeding)
  • Maintenance Needs:  Low (but requires frequent mowing) 
  • Mowing Height: 3 ½  to 4 inches
  • Potential for Disease: Low; susceptible to brown patch
  • Color/Texture: Dark-green, coarse texture

Grass Seed Options:
Triple-Play Tall Fescue Grass Seed Blend (5000 sq ft)
Eretz Kentucky 31 K31 Tall Fescue Grass Seed (choose your size)
Pennington The Rebels Tall Fescue Grass Seed Mix (7 lb.)

3. Fine Fescue

FIne Fescue
Fine Fescue
Photo Credit: VT Turf / Youtube

Another choice for Chicago area residents is fine fescues. Red, hard, and chewings fescues are popular in Illinois. This grass type requires less maintenance, and it adjusts easier to shade. This grass tolerates shade, poor soil quality, and lower pH levels. Fine fescue prefers well-draining soil.

Homeowners love that the maintenance required is low, and that fine fescue has a moderate foot traffic tolerance. It doesn’t require as much fertilizer as other grass types, but you might find that it declines in full sun if you like to mow frequently or if you apply fertilizer too often.

Fine fescues do well when mixed with Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass, especially in lawns with partial shade. You can plant it alone in shady areas, but a cool-season mix is more popular for an entire lawn.

Creeping red is the most popular to plant alone because of its texture. Hard and chewings fescues do great when combined with other varieties. Additionally, they work well if you have a yard with a mix of both shade and sun. So, planting this type of grass can work well in a yard that experiences both shade and sun.

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Bunch-type grass, except for creeping red fescues, which have rhizomes
  • Shade Tolerance:  High
  • Drought Tolerance: High
  • Foot Traffic Tolerance: Moderate
  • Maintenance Needs:  Low
  • Mowing Height: 1 to 3 inches
  • Potential for Disease: Moderate (some species have high resistance while others have low resistance); susceptible to summer patch, snow molds, red thread, and dollar spot
  • Color/Texture: Medium to dark green, soft texture

Grass Seed Options:
Outsidepride Legacy Fine Fescue Grass Seed (5 lbs.)
Eretz Creeping Red Fine Fescue Seed (choose your size)
Outsidepride Creeping Red Fine Fescue Grass Seed (25 lbs.)
Outsidepride Hard Fine Fescue Grass Seed (10 lbs.)

4. Perennial Ryegrass

 Perennial Ryegrass
Perennial Ryegrass
Photo Credit: Dr Mary Gillham Archive Project / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

No one wants to wait for ages for grass seed to establish, which is why perennial ryegrass is popular. The quick germination time for perennial ryegrass works well when mixed with the slower Kentucky bluegrass. 

Experts at Purdue University recommend that you mix perennial ryegrass with other grass species, such as Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescue (if you have shady areas). It is not completely cold and hardy in the Chicago area, so you might find that it fades in your yard over time. That will result in thin turf that requires overseeding.

The only negative about perennial ryegrass is that it does require moderate to high maintenance. If you don’t like to maintain grass, perennial ryegrass may not be your type. On a positive note, this grass type tolerates foot traffic well.

  • Classification: Cool-season grass
  • Spreads by: Bunch-type grass
  • Shade Tolerance:  Low
  • Drought Tolerance: Moderate
  • Foot Traffic Tolerance: High, but as a bunch-type grass, it has a low ability to recuperate, and damaged grass must be overseeded
  • Maintenance Needs:  Moderate
  • Mowing Height: 1 ½  to 2 ½  inches
  • Potential for Disease: Moderate; susceptible to gray leaf spot and rust
  • Color/Texture: Dark-green, fine texture

Grass Seed Options:

Outsidepride Perennial Ryegrass Seed (5 lbs.)
Eretz ProTurf Perennial Ryegrass Fine Lawn Seed (choose your size)

Use Cool-Season Grass Seed Mixes

In the Chicago area, many homeowners prefer to use a cool-season grass seed mix. (A mix means two or more species mixed together to plant in the yard). A genetically diverse lawn is less likely to experience disease injury and will adapt to different growing conditions, such as part-sun, part-shade.

Consider mixing Kentucky Bluegrass, Fine Fescue, and Perennial Ryegrass in your cool-season Chicago lawn. You want Kentucky Bluegrass to be the dominant species in the mixture.

When to Plant Grass Seed in Chicago?

The best time to plant grass seed in the Chicago area is between August 15 and October 1. This time frame provides warm soils, cool temperatures, and frequent rainfall that creates the perfect environment for seed germination. While spring might seem like a good time to plant grass, you’ll find that it’s best to plant these cool-season grasses in fall around September.

How to Choose the Best Grass

green bermuda grass
Photo Credit: rovenimages.com / Pexels

Heavy-Traffic vs. Low-Traffic Areas

Now that you know the best grass types for Chicago lawns, how do you specifically choose the right grass for your lawn? The best answer to this question is to judge it by your lifestyle. 

Do you have children, guests, and pets who will be walking on your lawn often? Then it may be ideal to choose a grass that can handle high traffic. If you don’t plan to tread across your grass much, then opting for grasses with a low foot traffic tolerance is a better option. 

Best grass types for high-traffic areas:

  • Perennial ryegrass or tall fescue (grass seed mixes often perform well, too, due to the combined strengths of each grass)

Best grass types for low to moderate traffic:

  • Fine fescue or Kentucky bluegrass

How Much Maintenance?

The amount of maintenance your grass needs will be another factor in the type of grass you choose for your Chicago lawn. If you don’t like cutting, watering, and fertilizing your grass often, it is a good idea to choose a type of grass that is low maintenance. 

High-maintenance grass:

  • Kentucky Bluegrass

Grass with a low or moderate maintenance level:

  • Fine fescue, perennial ryegrass, tall fescue

Shade Tolerance

When choosing a grass type for your Chicago yard, it is also important to know if your grass thrives in full shade, full sun, or a combination of the two. 

Grass types that need full sun

  • Perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass (can thrive in some shade)

Grass types that can thrive in partial shade

  • Fine fescue and tall fescue (combination of both sun and shade)

Disease Resistance 

Another important factor to keep in mind when choosing grass for your yard is its disease tolerance. 

Grass types with moderate disease resistance

  • Perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, and fine fescue

Grass types with low disease resistance

  • Tall fescue

Do you need help with planting the right type of lawn grass in your Chicago yard? Contact a lawn care expert today and make your yard as vibrant as the city itself.

Main Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay

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Bethany Hayes